Inside story on Mane’s rise from France’s third tier to Liverpool superstar
Mane has exploded in 2019, taking his game up another level with big-match performances, a share of last season’s Premier League golden boot, a key role in his side’s Champions League success and 13 goals already this term.
So good has the 27-year-old been in the last 12 months that he received Lionel Messi’s vote for the Ballon d’Or – ultimately finishing fourth.
And to the man who discovered Mane scrambling to make an impression in the lower reaches of French football, and duly put him on the path to superstardom, it is a source of pride to see how far the Kop No.10 has come.
“Sadio (Mane) is one of the best players in the world,” Red Bull Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund told Mirror Football this week.
“Messi was not happy with the fourth place – and they [Liverpool] won the Champions League. [He’s] an outstanding success story.”
Mane has become the poster boy for everything that Salzburg is about. They search far and wide for young talent and offer a platform from which those youngsters to go ever-higher.
In the city of Mozart, it is a state of continual evolution, of picking up rough, uncut diamonds, polishing and smoothing jagged edges, and allowing them to shine brighter before being sold on.
“This is the story here and not always so easy,” says Freund. “We want, not want, but we sell the players to give them the opportunity to make the next step to a bigger club and for sure we are very proud.
“Everybody knows in our scouting department which players we are searching for – 16, 17, 18, 19, maximum 20 years old.
“And also which player we want to find: We need speed, intelligence, good mentality, good character, fast in the head.”
For Freund, Mane is his greatest discovery.
Initially spotted in France with Metz, Mane scored just once in 19 outings in Ligue 2 as his side were relegated. One goal in three games followed at the start of the 2012-13 campaign, but Salzburg decided to take the plunge, spending €4 million to take him into the shadow of the Eastern Alps.
“The most successful player and the highest level reached is Sadio Mane,” continues Freund. “I found him in Metz in the third division and his development was outstanding.
“We saw a lot of potential. We saw his movements, his speed, he was so hungry to score goals.
“When we then met him personally he was really clear and he wanted to make the next step.
“But it was not easy, it was a different language, a different culture. I can remember very well when he first started here it was very interesting progress.
“In the end if you sign a player… also like Erling Haaland, you see at 16, 17, an outstanding mentality, an outstanding left foot, but you never know, you can’t be 100 per cent sure he’s going to develop like this. Also with Sadio it was like this.
“We always see a lot of things in the future, sometimes small things on the pitch, and you say ‘Wow! It looks so easy when you make this movement’ and so on.
“Also very important again is the mentality… how is the player outside the pitch? How is he in training? How is his reaction when he loses a game? How is he with his teammates? This is very important for us.
“I always say mentality is more important than talent.”
Mane would repay Salzburg with 45 goals in 87 games, and a league and cup double in 2014. The Austrian side duly sold him to Southampton for £12 million, before he joined Liverpool two years later.
At Anfield, 72 goals in 145 games have followed. Before too long, a Premier League title is likely to end up on his mantelpiece too.
For Freund, who shared a post-game embrace with Mane after Liverpool’s 2-0 Champions League win in midweek, that too will be a proud moment.
“He’s one of the best players in the world
• Culled from mirror.co.uk.
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